The Twin Cities and their suburbs are in a flutter because of the remarks made the other day by Calvin Griffith. That distinguished orator and social commentator told the Waseca (Minn.) Lions Club that he is not supremely fond of black people. His decision to move his team from Washington to Minnesota in 1960 was largely inspired, he said, "when I found out you had only 15,000 blacks here."
Griffith was freely confessing certain prejudices that took further form when he added. "You've got good, hard-working white people out here." Any Griffith said, "Blacks don't go to ball games." The stuff hit the fans almost immediately. Season-ticket cancellations began to come in. One suburb said no more of those special excursion buses to the Twins' games.
Rod Carew, a black and the Twins' perennial American League batting champion, said he would never play for Griffith again. Yet to fall may be the worst blow against Griffith. The Midwest Federal Bank, which has been playing him "in excess of $1 million" for radio-TV rights, said it is considering "seriously examining any further relationship with the Twins."
For what he said to the Waseca Lions in his 40-minute speech, the now lamb-like Griffith is issuing broadside apologies - to the fans, to his players, to everybody he offended. "I had a couple of drinks . . . I wasn't trying to hurt anybody . . . I was trying to be funny." Also, that the Minneapolis Tribune reporter took his remarks "out of context."
But Washington fans could suggest that Griffith is overlooking his best defense. Instead of pleading he was drunk, Griffith should plead he was sober, because he never means what he says when he's sober. Thousands of Washington fans would be willing character witnesses to that.
He was sober that day in Washington in 1953 when he said in a story under his byline in The Washington Post that, "The Senators will be in Washington forever, as long as I have any say." And Griffith was sober on Oct. 18, 1960, when he said of reports that he was preparing to move the Senators to Minnesota: "I don't know how these wild rumors start."
The history of the case reminds us that for years Minneapolis, that shameless hussy, had flirted with Griffith, making goo-goo eyes at him. She also flaunted her dowry of a guaranteed million-attendance for three years plus a sweetheart contract that gave him the stadium rental for pennies, plus all the concessions. Even while he was protesting his undying love for Washington and its fans and denying any plan to move, his blood was running hot for domicile with Minnie.
Out there, he prospered for several seasons. And then, inevitably, Griffith fouled it up. He fired Billy Martin, the Twins' most popular manager ever. He tried to operate a mom and pop baseball store in a supermarket age. He wouldn't meet the price in a free-agent market, either, and lost most of his good players - Bert Blyleven, Larry Hisle and Lyman Bostock, among them, and now, probably, Carew. His Minnesota team that drew 1,483,547 fans in 1967, nine years later drew only 715,395 in a disenchanted city and Griffith had to cash in some of those healthy certificates of deposit he banked in the good years.
Griffith's horrible blunder before the Waseca Lions bespeaks what always was a willful ignorance of public relations. Yet the high irony is that no club owner in the majors can match its scent for talent that enable him to come by all those wonderful players he later was to lose.
The Griffiths have been accused of prejudice before. One episode occurred curiously enough at another civic club luncheon some years ago in Vancourver, where the Twins had a farm team. A relative of Griffith was telling of the club's reason for moving from Washington. "Too many blacks there," he said to his astounded Vancourver audience which was much admiring of a black player who had just been voted the team's most valuable.
In an admirable bit of prose by Dick Beddoes, a Vancouver Sun writer, this remark was duly reported. Beddoes noted that the Griffith relative "was attired in a dark suit, dark shirt and dark tie, with prejudice to match." He also absolved Calvin Griffith of any blame by writing. "A man must not always be his brother's keeper, especially if his brother is a slob."
There had been a previous report of Griffith's bigotry. In the late 1950s, when Griffith was secretly seeking permission to move his team, he made his case at an American League meeting in a Chicago hotel that was closed to the press, as usual. But Bill Furlong of the Chicago News, lean of girth, squirmed into an adjoining air-conditioning duct and took notes. Furlong the next day reported he heard Griffith plead. "Too many blacks in Washington. They don't buy tickets."
When he wan't making a knothead of himself, Griffith did offer some fascinating social comments before the Waseca Lions, none of which is apt to endear him to his Twins athletes, black or white.
Noting the batting slump this season of his young catcher, Butch Wynegar. Griffith offered him and other players free advice on their love life.
"The worst thing that can happen to a young player is to get married and then go off to spring training . . . Wynegar was playing 'hands' with his wife during spring training and instead of running around the outfield was running around the bedroom." . . . He said former Twin Jim Hughes did the same thing "and signed his ticket to Tacoma."
The Twins' owner even suggested an alternative to bridegroom fatigue. "Love comes pretty cheap these days and they could take advantage of that and wait to get married." After his "couple of drinks," Griffith was now a marriage counselor.
He commental too, on Carew, who is his best player. Griffith said, "Carew was a damn fool to sign a three-year contract for only $170,000 a year . . . but that's what his agent asked for so that's what he gets."
This was all pretty historic, a major league club owner in effect advising ball players and their agents to ask for more money. Griffith is as much loved this week in ownership councils as he is by the NAACP.